Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • When I was in my 20s,

  • I saw my very first psychotherapy client.

  • I was a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology at Berkeley.

  • She was a 26-year-old woman named Alex.

  • Now Alex walked into her first session

  • wearing jeans and a big slouchy top,

  • and she dropped onto the couch in my office

  • and kicked off her flats

  • and told me she was there to talk about guy problems.

  • Now when I heard this, I was so relieved.

  • My classmate got an arsonist for her first client.

  • (Laughter)

  • And I got a twentysomething who wanted to talk about boys.

  • This I thought I could handle.

  • But I didn't handle it.

  • With the funny stories that Alex would bring to session,

  • it was easy for me just to nod my head

  • while we kicked the can down the road.

  • "Thirty's the new 20," Alex would say,

  • and as far as I could tell, she was right.

  • Work happened later, marriage happened later,

  • kids happened later, even death happened later.

  • Twentysomethings like Alex and I had nothing but time.

  • But before long, my supervisor pushed me

  • to push Alex about her love life.

  • I pushed back.

  • I said, "Sure, she's dating down,

  • she's sleeping with a knucklehead,

  • but it's not like she's going to marry the guy."

  • And then my supervisor said,

  • "Not yet, but she might marry the next one.

  • Besides, the best time to work on Alex's marriage

  • is before she has one."

  • That's what psychologists call an "Aha!" moment.

  • That was the moment I realized, 30 is not the new 20.

  • Yes, people settle down later than they used to,

  • but that didn't make Alex's 20s a developmental downtime.

  • That made Alex's 20s a developmental sweet spot,

  • and we were sitting there blowing it.

  • That was when I realized that this sort of benign neglect

  • was a real problem, and it had real consequences,

  • not just for Alex and her love life

  • but for the careers and the families and the futures

  • of twentysomethings everywhere.

  • There are 50 million twentysomethings

  • in the United States right now.

  • We're talking about 15 percent of the population,

  • or 100 percent if you consider

  • that no one's getting through adulthood

  • without going through their 20s first.

  • Raise your hand if you're in your 20s.

  • I really want to see some twentysomethings here.

  • Oh, yay! Y'all's awesome.

  • If you work with twentysomethings, you love a twentysomething,

  • you're losing sleep over twentysomethings, I want to see

  • Okay. Awesome, twentysomethings really matter.

  • So I specialize in twentysomethings because I believe

  • that every single one of those 50 million twentysomethings

  • deserves to know what psychologists,

  • sociologists, neurologists and fertility specialists

  • already know:

  • that claiming your 20s is one of the simplest,

  • yet most transformative, things you can do

  • for work, for love, for your happiness,

  • maybe even for the world.

  • This is not my opinion. These are the facts.

  • We know that 80 percent of life's most defining moments

  • take place by age 35.

  • That means that eight out of 10 of the decisions

  • and experiences and "Aha!" moments

  • that make your life what it is

  • will have happened by your mid-30s.

  • People who are over 40, don't panic.

  • This crowd is going to be fine, I think.

  • We know that the first 10 years of a career

  • has an exponential impact

  • on how much money you're going to earn.

  • We know that more than half of Americans

  • are married or are living with or dating

  • their future partner by 30.

  • We know that the brain caps off its second

  • and last growth spurt in your 20s

  • as it rewires itself for adulthood,

  • which means that whatever it is you want to change about yourself,

  • now is the time to change it.

  • We know that personality changes more during your 20s

  • than at any other time in life,

  • and we know that female fertility peaks at age 28,

  • and things get tricky after age 35.

  • So your 20s are the time to educate yourself

  • about your body and your options.

  • So when we think about child development,

  • we all know that the first five years are a critical period

  • for language and attachment in the brain.

  • It's a time when your ordinary, day-to-day life

  • has an inordinate impact on who you will become.

  • But what we hear less about is that there's such a thing

  • as adult development, and our 20s

  • are that critical period of adult development.

  • But this isn't what twentysomethings are hearing.

  • Newspapers talk about the changing timetable of adulthood.

  • Researchers call the 20s an extended adolescence.

  • Journalists coin silly nicknames for twentysomethings

  • like "twixters" and "kidults."

  • It's true.

  • As a culture, we have trivialized what is actually

  • the defining decade of adulthood.

  • Leonard Bernstein said that to achieve great things,

  • you need a plan and not quite enough time.

  • Isn't that true?

  • So what do you think happens

  • when you pat a twentysomething on the head and you say,

  • "You have 10 extra years to start your life"?

  • Nothing happens.

  • You have robbed that person of his urgency and ambition,

  • and absolutely nothing happens.

  • And then every day, smart, interesting twentysomethings

  • like you or like your sons and daughters

  • come into my office and say things like this:

  • "I know my boyfriend's no good for me,

  • but this relationship doesn't count. I'm just killing time."

  • Or they say, "Everybody says as long as I get started

  • on a career by the time I'm 30, I'll be fine."

  • But then it starts to sound like this:

  • "My 20s are almost over, and I have nothing to show for myself.

  • I had a better resume the day after I graduated from college."

  • And then it starts to sound like this:

  • "Dating in my 20s was like musical chairs.

  • Everybody was running around and having fun,

  • but then sometime around 30 it was like the music turned off

  • and everybody started sitting down.

  • I didn't want to be the only one left standing up,

  • so sometimes I think I married my husband

  • because he was the closest chair to me at 30."

  • Where are the twentysomethings here?

  • Do not do that.

  • Okay, now that sounds a little flip, but make no mistake,

  • the stakes are very high.

  • When a lot has been pushed to your 30s,

  • there is enormous thirtysomething pressure

  • to jump-start a career, pick a city, partner up,

  • and have two or three kids in a much shorter period of time.

  • Many of these things are incompatible,

  • and as research is just starting to show,

  • simply harder and more stressful to do

  • all at once in our 30s.

  • The post-millennial midlife crisis

  • isn't buying a red sports car.

  • It's realizing you can't have that career you now want.

  • It's realizing you can't have that child you now want,

  • or you can't give your child a sibling.

  • Too many thirtysomethings and fortysomethings

  • look at themselves, and at me, sitting across the room,

  • and say about their 20s,

  • "What was I doing? What was I thinking?"

  • I want to change what twentysomethings

  • are doing and thinking.

  • Here's a story about how that can go.

  • It's a story about a woman named Emma.

  • At 25, Emma came to my office

  • because she was, in her words, having an identity crisis.

  • She said she thought she might like to work in art

  • or entertainment, but she hadn't decided yet,

  • so she'd spent the last few years waiting tables instead.

  • Because it was cheaper, she lived with a boyfriend

  • who displayed his temper more than his ambition.

  • And as hard as her 20s were,

  • her early life had been even harder.

  • She often cried in our sessions,

  • but then would collect herself by saying,

  • "You can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends."

  • Well one day, Emma comes in

  • and she hangs her head in her lap,

  • and she sobbed for most of the hour.

  • She'd just bought a new address book,

  • and she'd spent the morning filling in her many contacts,

  • but then she'd been left staring at that empty blank

  • that comes after the words

  • "In case of emergency, please call ... ."

  • She was nearly hysterical when she looked at me and said,

  • "Who's going to be there for me if I get in a car wreck?

  • Who's going to take care of me if I have cancer?"

  • Now in that moment, it took everything I had

  • not to say, "I will."

  • But what Emma needed wasn't some therapist

  • who really, really cared.

  • Emma needed a better life, and I knew this was her chance.

  • I had learned too much since I first worked with Alex

  • to just sit there while Emma's defining decade

  • went parading by.

  • So over the next weeks and months,

  • I told Emma

  • three things that every twentysomething, male or female,

  • deserves to hear.

  • First, I told Emma to forget about having an identity crisis

  • and get some identity capital.

  • By get identity capital, I mean do something

  • that adds value to who you are.

  • Do something that's an investment

  • in who you might want to be next.

  • I didn't know the future of Emma's career,

  • and no one knows the future of work, but I do know this:

  • Identity capital begets identity capital.

  • So now is the time for that cross-country job,

  • that internship, that startup you want to try.

  • I'm not discounting twentysomething exploration here,

  • but I am discounting exploration that's not supposed to count,

  • which, by the way, is not exploration.

  • That's procrastination.

  • I told Emma to explore work and make it count.

  • Second, I told Emma that the urban tribe is overrated.

  • Best friends are great for giving rides to the airport,

  • but twentysomethings who huddle together

  • with like-minded peers limit who they know,

  • what they know, how they think, how they speak,

  • and where they work.

  • That new piece of capital, that new person to date

  • almost always comes from outside the inner circle.

  • New things come from what are called our weak ties,

  • our friends of friends of friends.

  • So yes, half of twentysomethings are un- or under-employed.

  • But half aren't, and weak ties

  • are how you get yourself into that group.

  • Half of new jobs are never posted,

  • so reaching out to your neighbor's boss

  • is how you get that un-posted job.

  • It's not cheating. It's the science of how information spreads.

  • Last but not least, Emma believed that

  • you can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends.

  • Now this was true for her growing up,

  • but as a twentysomething, soon Emma would pick her family

  • when she partnered with someone

  • and created a family of her own.

  • I told Emma the time to start picking your family is now.

  • Now you may be thinking that 30

  • is actually a better time to settle down

  • than 20, or even 25,

  • and I agree with you.

  • But grabbing whoever you're living with or sleeping with

  • when everyone on Facebook starts walking down the aisle

  • is not progress.

  • The best time to work on your marriage

  • is before you have one,

  • and that means being as intentional with love

  • as you are with work.

  • Picking your family is about consciously choosing

  • who and what you want

  • rather than just making it work or killing time

  • with whoever happens to be choosing you.

  • So what happened to Emma?

  • Well, we went through that address book,

  • and she found an old roommate's cousin

  • who worked at an art museum in another state.

  • That weak tie helped her get a job there.

  • That job offer gave her the reason

  • to leave that live-in boyfriend.

  • Now, five years later, she's a special events planner for museums.